D.C. Adds Local Art to Downtown Palette

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

The hallways inside the District's city hall are dominated by a rolling parade of politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats.

Now there's a new addition brightening the otherwise bland vista: artwork.

Not just 1, 2 or even 10 pieces, but 175 -- all of them produced by Washington area artists and now on permanent display at the John A. Wilson Building.

From abstract paintings to photography to sculpture, the wide-ranging exhibition is spread over six floors and is the first of its kind at the building, which houses the offices of the mayor and D.C. Council.

"It brings life to the halls," Anthony Gittens, director for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, said as he toured the exhibit on a recent afternoon.

The commission came up with the idea for the exhibit as a way to draw attention to the work of D.C. area artists and chose the Wilson building as a centrally located showcase.

Sondra N. Arkin, the exhibit's curator, said no particular theme permeates the exhibit, which features several prominent artists, including painters Sam Gilliam and Robin Rose and photographer William Christenberry.

A panel reviewed some 4,000 submissions before selecting the exhibit. The main criteria was that artists be from the area. The commission spent $400,000 acquiring the art. The most it paid was $17,000 for a Gilliam painting.

Washington's local art scene, Arkin said, typically is "overpowered" by the national museums and galleries downtown.

"People come to Washington, and they go to the Mall," she said. But with the city hall exhibit, she said, visitors can "see the breadth of Washington art."

"They get to see that there's abstraction and clay work and glasswork that's as good as anywhere in the country," she said. "Often when people travel, they want to see who's doing the local art, and in Washington there often hasn't been a place like that."

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) attended a reception Oct. 31 celebrating the exhibit's opening. What he and hundreds of guests saw was a eclectic mix of art, to say the least.

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